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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Israeli bill proposes banning Palestinian flag from rallies

The draft legislation calls for up to a year in prison for disobeying law

Arabs hold a Palestinian flag during a protest against the Jewish nation bill in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. AP
Arabs hold a Palestinian flag during a protest against the Jewish nation bill in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. AP

An Israeli politician has proposed a bill banning the flag of Palestineian flag from being raised at rallies in the country.

The draft was put forward by Anat Berko, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and someone who is notorious for her anti-Palestinian views.

The maximum sentence for someone who chooses to raise a Palestinian flag at a rally in Israel could be up to a year in prison.

“The flags of enemies should not be tolerated in the public sphere,” Ms Berko said, according to Israeli news site The Jerusalem Post. “This cannot be allowed, and it must be enforced”.

Last month, thousands of protesters gathered in the coastal city of Tel Aviv to rally against the controversial nation-state bill passed by Mr Netanyahu’s nationalist government.

The law entrenches Israel's character as a Jewish state and condemns Arabs to second class citizenship, demoting Arabic from an official language to one of special status.

Arab officials condemned the latest proposal as another example of Israeli racism towards the Palestinians who live among them.

Ahmad Tibi, a leading Arab politician who sits in the Knesset, told The National that the proposed law was a further sign of Israel's discriminatory policies against the Palestinians.

"The racist right coalition is continuing in its bizarre legislation, sending hate and ignorance towards the national identity of the Palestinians," he said. "Berko will disappear sooner or later and the Palestinians will prevail".

Jamal Zahalka, an Arab politician in Israel and member of the Arab Joint List, Israel’s third largest party, said the bill was “racist, cowardly, and an attempt to hide Palestinian identity that will not succeed”.

His Joint List colleague Aida Touma-Sliman said the Palestinian flag was part of their identity and should not be censored, nor those who fly it punished. She said the proposed bill was another sign that Israeli democracy was weakening with every move the nationalist government and its allies make.

“Those who think Arab citizens must prove their loyalty to Israel by denying their national identity are very wrong,” she said.

The bill will be put to the Israeli parliament after its summer recess.

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Opponents of the nation-state bill, which prompted Palestinians to take to the streets with their flags, have called it racist and discriminatory against the country’s minorities. Arabs make up almost 20 per cent of Israel’s population of around eight million people.

After Palestinian flags were raised at the rallies in Tel Aviv, Mr Netanyahu took to social media to use their presence as a justification for the nation-state bill.

“PLO flags have been unfurled in the heart of Tel Aviv and we have heard cries of 'with blood and spirit we will redeem you Palestine',” he wrote.

The new bill is an apparent response to the presence of Palestinian flags in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square last month. The media reaction in Israel focused mainly on the flags and not the grievances of the Arabs at the protest.

The newly-proposed bill, if passed, is likely to increase the isolation of Israel’s Arab community, which has not received support from centrist and leftist Israeli politicians. Instead, they chose to not attend their protest in Tel Aviv.

Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, chose not to attend and instead suggested that Israel was a democratic nation because it had tolerated the flag wavers.

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